Passionate and determined are two words that describe Debora Prokopich Buzzi, this year’s recipient of a prestigious Human Touch Award from Cancer Care Ontario.
Debora was nominated by staff at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre’s Regional Cancer Care Northwest and Prevention and Screening Services, two programs where Debora has contributed as a Patient Family Advisor. Since 2009, Debora has been involved with discussions, initiatives, teams and councils at a local and provincial level to improve cancer patient care.
As a breast cancer survivor, Debora contributes to improving experiences for others. “In 2007 I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” recalled Debora. “I have a finance and administrative background, so I didn’t know what needle biopsies, core biopsies, sentinel biopsies, and wait times were or supposed to be. I advocated for myself throughout my entire journey.”
Debora surprised her cancer care providers by carrying a binder, full of appointment and treatment information, with her to all appointments. Asking questions and keeping close contact with the breast assessment coordinator started Debora’s volunteer career with our Hospital.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision to become involved with patient-centred care initiatives, it just happened as I went through my diagnostic journey,” said Debora. “When I went through my experience 10 years ago, we realized there wasn’t enough patient information available. I didn’t know the medical language, and my family couldn’t be with me for some tests. That made the experience harder for me.”
Debora’s volunteer resumé with Ontario’s cancer system is a long one, and includes work with: the Diagnostic Assessment Program at the local and provincial level; symptom management; the pain management clinic; education resources for patients; sitting on councils with Regional Cancer Care Northwest and Prevention and Screening Services; advocating at the provincial level for exercise programs in treatment and survivorship phases of the cancer journey; and influencing cancer screening campaigns. She has also been a keynote speaker and panel member numerous times for Cancer Care Ontario.
“We will never be able to quantify the true value of Debora’s commitment to Ontario’s cancer system, but we do know that patient care has improved because of her. Patients now have access to better education resources, enhanced access to information and health care providers, and have a chance to enroll in the Wellness and Exercise program for people with Cancer (WE-Can program) in Thunder Bay,” said Kelly-Jo Gillis, Manager of Preventive Health Services at our Hospital.
The WE-Can Program is particularly important to Debora. She was part of the inaugural WE-Can class in 2010, and after completing the 10-week program Debora felt like she got a piece of her life back as her physical and mental health improved. This is a program that she continues to fundraise and advocate for.
Winning the Human Touch Award was a surprise to Debora. “I opened the email from the CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, and started to cry,” said Debora. “I didn’t know what I had done for the cancer system, and I don’t think of it like that. I just say what I have experienced and I give suggestions on how to make things better.”
Debora Prokopich Buzzi received her Human Touch Award in person at a reception in Toronto where award winners, both health care providers and volunteers from across the province, were honoured for their dedication to patient care and improving the patient experience.
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